Skip to comments.The Last Boomer?
Posted on 05/09/2012 5:35:32 AM PDT by Kaslin
If Mitt Romney succeeds in his quest for the presidency, the media will focus on his status as the first Mormon in the White House. But its even more significant that hed represent the last of another controversial cohort: the final Baby Boomer to occupy the Oval Office, or even to top the ticket of a major political party.
After more than twenty years of dominating the national political scene, the narcissistic children of the 60s finally prepare to amble toward retirement, leaving the nations highest office to leaders from less polarized and self-righteous generations. Ironically, the Boomers last hurrah in the presidential arena will almost certainly come from a starchy straight arrow utterly untouched by weed or Woodstock, rock n roll or rebellion, or other celebrated themes of his turbulent counterparts.
Of course, Hillary Clinton could confound Mitts status as the Last of the Boomers by breaking her pledge to eschew electoral politics and making a presidential race of her own in 2016 or thereafter. Even if she delayed her candidacy till 2020, shed be only 73 at the time of the election just a year older than John McCain in 2008, and four years younger than Ron Paul this year. Nevertheless, friends of the Secretary of State believe shes serious in her determination to pursue other paths of public service and personal fulfillment.
Theres also the possibility that Jeb Bush, the former Governor of Florida, could return to the political lists to pursue the presidency and to redeem his familys honor, but his age and personal history make his identification with the 60s generation somewhat questionable. While sociologists Neil Howe and William Strauss identify Baby Boomers as those born between 1943 and 1960, a younger member of that group like Jeb (born in 1953) would have missed out on most of the defining experiences of the era. For instance, President Nixon announced an end to the Vietnam draft before Jeb even graduated from prep school in 1971 and when Barack Obama, by the way, was only ten.
The high school Class of 65 the graduating class of Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Dan Quayle, and me comprised the very heart of the Baby Boom generation. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush may have both graduated in 1964, but it was in January 1965 that Time magazine ran a famous cover story on TODAYS TEENAGERS with the hopeful subtitle On the Fringe of a Golden Era.
That article focused on my own senior class at Palisades High School in Los Angeles, and more than a decade later provided the basis for my bestselling book (and later an NBC TV series), What Really Happened to the Class of 65? The distinguishing characteristic of our moment in history involved sudden, whiplash change that afflicted the country just as we made the always fraught transition from high school to college. Marijuana and psychedelic drugs remained extremely rare (if not altogether unknown) during our high school years, but became thoroughly ubiquitous shortly after we arrived at university. The Vietnam War enjoyed overwhelming, nearly unanimous public support when we got high school diplomas in June 1965, but within two years the rising draft calls made the conflict massively unpopular on university campuses. The Watts riots paralyzed Southern California within weeks of our high school graduation, followed by a seemingly endless series of other urban explosions over the next five years, with campus unrest and even bloody confrontations disrupting the nations most prestigious institutions of higher education.
Nevertheless, some prophets of the New Age saw all the turmoil as both hopeful and helpful. In 1970, a professor I knew casually at Yale wrote a massive bestseller called The Greening of America, proclaiming a great change among the bright, sensitive children of the affluent middle class. Specifically, Charles Reich located that change in the college class of 1969, which entered as freshmen in the fall of 1965 in other words Romneys class, and mine. There is a revolution coming, Professor Reich solemnly proclaimed. It will originate with the individual and with culture and it will change the political structure only as its final act At the heart of everything is what we shall call a change of consciousness. This means a new head a new way of living a new man. A year earlier, my law school classmate Hillary Rodham had given a commencement speech to her class at Wellesley (prominently featured in LIFE magazine) in which she similarly referred to our generational quest for a more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating mode of living.
No wonder Barack Obama managed to beat her in 2008 by appealing in part to the rising national exhaustion over relentless navel gazing and incurable self-importance on the part of the Boomer generation. Because he counted as some 14 years younger than a typical member of the Class of 65, and because he spent a significant portion of his childhood abroad, Senator Obama seemed untainted by the ancient and increasingly irrelevant divisions between hippies and straights, SDSers and frat boys, New Politics activists who fretted over our sick society and reflexive love-it-or-leave-it patriots. In his second book, The Audacity of Hope, the future president expressed his weariness with the endless confrontations between counter cultural and traditional values. Senator Obama wrote: In the back and forth between Clinton and Gingrich, and in the elections of 2000 and 2004, I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the baby boom generation a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago played out on the national stage.
He promised to transcend such pointless, paralyzing cultural battles and to launch a new era of post-partisan cooperation that would unite all elements of society across ideological and even racial lines. Instead, most Americans now view the Republic as more deeply, destructively divided than ever before. The greatest disappointments and disasters of the Obama presidency all stem from his undeniable failure to deliver his promise to pursue peace.
And what about Romney?
How could The Last Boomer possibly lead the nation beyond the vicious fights over values that actually began during his most formative years and, in one way or another, shaped nearly all his generational counterparts?
Virtually all of the leading liberal lights to emerge from the 60s generation embraced the attitudes of campus rebels and the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era, including Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Howard Dean and countless others. Their conservative opponents (Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, George Pataki, John Boehner) stoutly rejected the gauzy ideals of the youth culture and embraced the values of earlier generations, but in most cases only did so after some experimentation with 1960s approaches to lifestyle and personal values. Newt Gingrich (of all people) freely confessed to his youthful enthusiasm for marijuana, and George W. Bush famously and eloquently declared that when I was young and stupid I was young and stupid.
Romney, on the other hand, never so much rejected the 60s as he remained altogether isolated from that eras ferment and torment. He never reacted negatively to the high profile fights over sex, drugs, and foreign policy that characterized the country during his university years because, for the most part, he never experienced them. He spent his freshman year (September 1965 to June 1966) at Stanford but disliked the increasingly politicized campus atmosphere and interrupted his college career to pursue his traditional Mormon obligation as a young missionary in France. Debates over the draft never seemed to concern him because he received a ministerial deferment like most Mormon missionaries and married his wife Ann (who hed pursued since high school) in March 1969, within weeks of his return to the United States. Their son Tagg arrived the next year, with Mitt and Ann living in a basement apartment and pursuing their undergraduate degrees at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah a world away from the activism that affronted most students of their era in elite campuses like Yale, Harvard, Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin.
When the Romneys moved to Harvard for Mitts simultaneous MBA and law school program they were raising two little boys (with three more to come) and already leading a deeply conservative family life that allowed little connection with the fervent activism that continued to characterize the campus. Almost alone of famous Boomers, Mitt Romney never let his hair, sideburns, beard or moustache grow out in some outrageously dated and embarrassing manner. In photographs from the period he remains disconcertingly recognizable the same self-possessed, clean cut, immaculately groomed figure he presents today, despite his occasional campaign trail efforts to make himself seem more earthy with his incongruous choice of jeans.
While Romneys isolation from the trends that defined most others in that famous Class of 65 might make him a dubious choice as the final presidential candidate from his generation, his distinctive experience could provide special appeal to the bulk of his fellow Boomers. Many (if not most) among the huge population bulge associated with that age group actually missed the cultural revolution known as the 60s: they fought in the Vietnam War rather than protesting it, they got jobs rather than getting high, they saw themselves as flag-wavers more than freaks. In addition, tens of millions of Boomers who may have taken a more unconventional approach back in the day have come to feel more ashamed than nostalgic about their youthful indulgence.
If Mitt Romney can unite all those who consistently shunned the counterculture with all those who once flirted with its values but now look back on those callow notions with disdain, he could easily win a majority of his fellow Boomers and, with them, the election. Romney can never pretend that he was once young and stupid like George W. Bush, but thats not necessarily a bad thing. We rightly respect him because he was never stupid. But it may be harder to forgive the fact that he was never young.
Gee, I LOVE hasty generalizations. They're usually wrong!!
I'm an early boomer and have been conservative all my life. How does that fit into your "tarring with a broad brush"??
The fact is that every large group is comprised of individuals. Some fit your perceptions, others don't. I guess you haven't figured that part out with all your intellectual elitist snobbishness. We're all different and hasty generalizations just make you look ill-informed.
Please give specific examples. A LOT of the accusations surrounding boomers actually belong elsewhere, so, I'd like to see what you are talking about.
Hey, old guy....take your Geritol. Calm down.
Of course I know that there were conservative members of the baby boomers. But your whining proves my point.
You know EXACTLY what I am talking about. Look at your peers and tell me they are an easy group to deal with.
You obviously are the exception. Except for the whiney part.
Ok, what whining?
You keep going after hasty generalizations and don’t give specifics.
As for your arrogance, just remember that your day is coming.
And YOU will be the “whiney old guy”!
Asd for Geritol, I don’t take it. I have type II diabetes from Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam and can’t take a lot of crap like that. A Lt. might know something about warfare.
The whining about my post. You are still doing it.
Thanks for your service.
Really, I am kidding you. You are not an old guy. But you have to admit that some of your hippie cohorts were a little off the reservation.
Now go get some rest.
(just kidding, again.)
I had no hippie cohorts. The hippie movement was overblown and comprised of a minority of boomers.
However, the press loved them more than the rest of the boomer class.
Thus, the enduring press, urban myth and adulation for a movement that was the forerunner of today’s OWS “heroes”.
Ok you win. The Boomers are the most wonderful generation ever.
Evidently you have not done much research on demographics. The science of demographics is, by definition, generalization of groups of similar folks.
Go do some reading, and we can have a mature discussion about “generations.”
Well I was born in 62 and I have to say we had the best music, concerts, Camaro’s and Reagan was the first President I voted for.....Life was really good back then......
Wait till you look at the musicians, John Denver, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Paul & Mary, Grace Slick, Neil Young , Beatles, Van Morrison, Joan Baez, Jerry Garcia, Pete Townsend, Joe Cocker, Judy Collins, Jimmy Page, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, and on and on and on....
I didn't say that, either. If you're going to jump from extreme to extreme, DON'T put words in my mouth!
When you read the perceptions that people have about boomers, the following things come out - we're the most selfish generation ever because, in the 60s, we voted to bankrupt SS so we could have LOTS and LOTS of taxpayer provided goodies. And, yet, if you research the demographics (and do a little math), when LBJ declared his War on Poverty that blew the lock off of SS, the oldest boomers were just reaching voting age. We didn't have any impact on SS other than paying the bill, like everyone else.
People often overlook the fact that MANY of the ideas that evolved into the radical philosophies of the hippies were outgrowths of the 50s' Beatniks. Hippies weren't even original in that, they just co-opted and extended the ideas of the Beatniks.
Then, we are told that all we ever did was take and contribute nothing to society. But, desktop computers, cell phones, VCRs, DVDs, CDs, and the Internet are but a few of our contributions. I know first hand because I worked on many of them.
All we are ever told is that we are the generation of the hippies. Perhaps so, but most of us weren't self-involved hippies - just the likes of Nancy Pelosi and the Rapist-in Chief, Bubba Clinton. Fast forward 30 years; how will Gen X & Yers feel about being blamed for the OWS crowd?? Is that to be their big contribution to society?? Given the DBM coverage OWS has received, they can count on it!!
No, I did not say any of those things. Go read some demographic history about the characteristics of eac 22 year generational cycle. It’s actually pretty interesting.
Stop taking the comments so personally. Do some research about the subject. Believe it or not, you are but a tiny, tiny, spec in a large pool.
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